Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How to Cope When a Partner Asks for Space

“I need space.” Hearing your partner say that he or she wants space is probably one of the more stress-inducing conversations to be had in a relationship. Certainly such the conversation leaves us reeling with questions and anxiety, but what is one to do if a partner makes such a request?

First and foremost, you must give your partner the space they desire.

Although it may feel completely at odds with what your heart and mind tell you to do, you must acquiesce. It is important for you to respect whatever boundary your partner is putting in place, though you may not agree with it. Remember that in doing so, you are communicating to your partner that you not only hear their needs, but are willing to respect them as well.

Check in with yourself

As the partner who was asked to give space, it is very common to feel anxious, unsure, and longing for more connection from your partner. Though, what you must keep in mind is how your anxieties about the space impact how you respond to your partner. In order to do this, is it very important for you to check in with yourself. How does your partner’s request for space make you feel? What thoughts come to mind? If you are feeling anxious, how do you experience and cope with anxiety?

If your anxieties drive you to seek more attention from your partner, think about the impact this will ultimately have on the relationship. Acting out on your anxieties by trying to bring your partner back around may only push them away more. It is very important for you to not only be aware of your own anxieties, but how they impact how you address and respond to your partner. You must find ways to self soothe instead of taking out your feelings on your already distant partner.

Place self-care at the top of your list of priorities. Rather than focusing on what is happening in the relationship, try to focus on what you need in order to calm your fears and anxieties. Whether it means spending time with family or friends, traveling, going for a run or attending a yoga class, or meditating; make sure that you are putting your mental health first. In doing so, you not only preserve your own well-being, but also allow yourself to take a break from the stresses surrounding the relationship, thereby giving your partner the space they desire.  

Understand the “Distancer-Pursuer” Dance

Oftentimes when one partner pulls away, we see a distance-pursuer dynamic. What this means is that the partner who asks for space (or distance), might do so out of feelings of being smothered or controlled. The other partner then responds by seeking more attention or affection. This becomes a cyclic pattern of reinforcing each person’s behaviors: the more one partner pulls away because of feeling smothered or controlled, the more the other seeks attention out of feelings of alienation or fear of abandonment. This becomes especially toxic if your partner specifically asks for space, because the distancing partner may interpret the pursuer’s actions as being a reinforcement of the very reason they are asking for distance, and interpret the pursuer as being unable or unwilling to meet their needs. As the pursuer, it is very important to challenge your automatic thoughts and feelings that your partner is becoming distant out of malicious intent, and communicate respect and understanding by not acting out on your desire to seek more attention from your partner.

Set Boundaries

Defining what “space” looks like will be important for both partners to understand in order to have the need met. Does space mean taking a thirty minute break after an argument? Having a few hours alone on the weekend? Or having a period of separation that lasts a few days or months? Having a conversation regarding boundaries is beneficial in two ways. First, letting your partner know that you are interested in boundaries on their terms communicates that not only are you willing to acknowledge their request, but also a genuine interest in meeting their needs. The second benefit is that knowing the expectations will (hopefully) give you some clarity and help to alleviate your anxieties regarding their distance.

Communicate Understanding and Respect    

Above all, remember that a partner requesting space is asking for you to be understanding and accepting of their needs. Though you may not understand their request, in order to preserve the relationship it is important to think about how you can manage your own anxieties while communicating understanding and respect to your partner. Remember that healthy relationships do not seek to possess, but rather to understand.  

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Importance of a “Thank You”

While saying “thank you” may seem minimally important or useful, I believe it is one of the most powerful phrases used in interpersonal relationships. Whether we realize it or not, we oftentimes make a mental tally of how often (or not so often) the important people in our lives offer an expression of gratitude. However, we are usually more cognizant of the “thank yous” we aren’t hearing.

You notice when you’re not appreciated

Whether it is holding a door open for a stranger, picking up the check for dinner, or doing the laundry, we always seem to notice when we feel that we are owed, but did not receive a “thank you.” Think about the feelings that come to mind when you felt you were not adequately thanked. Maybe being snubbed a few times doesn’t create any lasting distress, but think about this in terms of your important relationships. If this continually happens, or becomes a pattern, you are likely to begin to feel angry or sad, alienated, and question how much the other person values you and or the relationship. If this goes addressed for an extended period of time, it is likely that you will begin to feel unsatisfied in the relationship, and less likely to do things that would merit a thank you, which will in turn make the other person less likely to offer thank yous.

Recognize the benefits of expressing gratitude

When you thank someone, even for the smallest act, you are not only acknowledging whatever they did in the moment, you are creating an atmosphere of acceptance and validation. Your partner will feel that you not only see their efforts, but that they matter to you. Because your loved one receives the message that you notice their efforts, they will not only feel accepted, but they will also be more likely to continue to do thinks for you in the future. Think about expressing gratitude as “credits” to your relationship “bank account,” the more positive experiences you add to the account, the more stable your relationship will be; and having negative experiences or “debits” won’t be so detrimental if you have an abundance of credits.

Use the “thank you” appropriately

1.     Don’t assume your loved one is a mind reader.  We often forget to say “thank you” in relationships when we assume that the other person knows we appreciate them. Keep in mind that your loved one is NOT a mind reader, unless you say it out loud to them, your unexpressed gratitude may be interpreted as emotional neglect. Whether it’s thanking your mother for preparing a meal, your partner for putting gas in the car or doing the laundry, or a friend for picking up the bar tab; a sincere out loud thank you will ensure that your loved one knows you recognize their efforts.
2.     Don’t be sarcastic. Especially if you are already in a rocky place in a relationship, sarcastic thank yous will only work to the detriment of the relationship. Being sarcastic with your thank yous will also cause the other person to question the sincerity of any future, genuine thank yous.

3.     Say it often, to everyone. Try to apply using an abundance of thank yous to all of your relationships. The goal is to get yourself into the habit of expressing gratitude often so that it will feel more natural and less forced. Remember that everyone in your life is deserving of a thank you, whether it’s a romantic partner, parent, your children, friend, or coworker, try to make applying an attitude of gratitude the norm in all of your interpersonal relationships.

For more information on how to improve relationships in your life, visit

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"I love you" isn't the most important thing to say to your partner

What your partner needs to hear as much as (if not more than) “I love you”

 I’m Sorry

This seems fairly obvious, because we all fall short of perfect and inevitably do or say something that makes our partner feel less than great. While imperfection is expected, it is extremely important that we own our mistakes. We have to be able to set aside our pride and express that remorse out loud to our partners. Think about a time that you realized you were wrong, but couldn’t find it in you to admit this to your partner? Often times though we realize our faults, we allow pride and righteous indignation to prevent us from telling our partner.

Saying “I’m sorry” is not just about admitting fault, it is also an attempt to repair the damage done. We say “I’m sorry” to let our partner know that we do not wish to continue in anger. Dr. John Gottman, a leading clinician and researcher in couples therapy, calls this a “repair attempt.” These repair attempts are of paramount importance not only healing our relationships in the moment, but also safeguarding them from resentment and negativity that can become like a cancer to the relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research reveals that couples that make repair attempts are far more successful than those who do not.

I forgive you

Very similar to making a repair attempt in saying “I’m sorry,” it is equally important to be receptive of such an attempt. In fact, rejecting your partner’s repair attempt can be just as detrimental as not making a repair attempt at all. When our partner offers a sincere “I’m sorry,” your ability to accept this and to say “I forgive you” can be indicative of how successful you will be as a couple. If you continually reject your partner’s apologies, how willing will they be to make them in the future? Remember that coming to the realization that your partner was wrong took not only an ability for introspection on their part, but also the willingness to set pride aside to attempt to repair the damage. If you continually reject this, your partner will begin to feel defeated and will be less likely to offer you apologies in the future.

I’m proud of you

This is about far more than simply acknowledging your partner’s accomplishments (which is certainly very important). This is about conveying the message to your partner that you have a deep respect and admiration for them. Feeling that your partner respects and admires you is incredibly important in creating (and maintaining) a deep sense of intimacy and emotional connection with your partner; which is again indicative of a healthy, lasting relationship. Saying “I’m proud of you” is a win-win, not only is telling your partner that you’re proud of them helpful in your relationship, it also helps foster a better sense of self-worth in your partner. Having a healthy self-concept will help in protecting your partner from experiencing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If your partner struggles with anxiety and or depression, telling them that you are proud of them may help in interrupting their thoughts and feelings of hopelessness and despair. 

If you would like to learn more about how to repair or strengthen the relationships in your life, visit to learn more about how speaking to a licensed professional may be beneficial.